Thursday, August 21, 2014

DUEL TO DEATH-1983-This crazy violent period piece is essentially about the bad blood between Chinese Kung-Fu and Japanese "sword fighting". The Japanese look down on the "weak" monks and are clearly the aggressors while the Chinese are honorable and would rather live in peace but every ten years a tournament to the death is held between the two countries. Ching Wan (Damian Lau; THE HEROIC TRIO), known as "lord of the sword", is the Chinese contender while his main rival is Hashimoto (Norman Chu also in Tsui Hark's WE'RE GOING TO EAT YOU)), an intense Japanese swordsman who had to kill his own sensei as a final test. The two become friends when a plot to rig the tournament is discovered. This is full of good fights, blood, dismemberment, exploding ninjas and a severed head that talks.

Director Sio-Tung Ching also made A CHINESE GHOST STORY. The remastered DVD is called DUEL TO THE DEATH.

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Plan 47

47 RONIN-2013-Universal Pictures tries to emulate the Tom Cruise hit THE LAST SAMURAI with this fictional fantasized version of the Japanese story of the 47 Ronin (known as "Chushingura" ) as a band of masterless samurai seek vengeance for the death of their master. It would have been great if Hollywood hadn't decided to make it a vehicle for Keanu Reeves. He's Kai, a half-English/half-Japanese "changeling" taken in by Lord Asano (Min Tanaka). Of course no one likes him especially Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada; also in THE LAST SAMURAI). Only Asano's daughter Mika (Ko Shibasaki) accepts him and they fall in love. The film does afford Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa a good role and the photography and scenery are excellent but Reeves character brings the whole thing down.

The director Carl Rinsch had previously made shorts and commercials.

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CHUPACABRA VS. THE ALAMO-2013-This is by far the worst "made for TV/direct to DVD"  atrocities I have seen in recent memory.

It's about a pack of chupacabras who come across the border from Mexico to eat victims. The plot is fairly routine and predictable but this nonsense is made even more pathetic and overbearing because it stars Erik Estrada who at one time in decade called the '70's starred in the now forgotten TV show "CHiPs". His performance is worst than terrible even for such low budget trash. He plays a San Antonio narc named Carlos. He has a new female partner (Julia Benson) who he eventually works with to hunt down the little vicious buggers and protect his stupid daughter and drug gang member son. Since his superiors won't  help him he has to enlist his son's gang to help destroy the famous monsters. Somehow they wind up at The Alamo and blow it up!

The CGI doggie like Chupacabras  are horrible. I'd rather watch and THE KILLER SHREWS! Director Terry Ingram made other movies I never heard of and worked on TV (R.L. STINE'S THE HAUNTING HOUR).

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Lyle Talbot!

SHRIEK IN THE NIGHT-1933-Two reporters from rival newspapers Pat Morgan (Ginger Rogers) and Ted Rand (Lyle Talbot) investigate the death of a well known millionaire after his accidental fall from a high rise apartment is ruled a homicide. After Rand gets Morgan accidentally fired they two team up. It turns out the victim was connected to a mobster and other murders occur. There's some weird characters like a serious police inspector (Purnell Pratt) with a clumsy comical assistant named Wilfred (Arthur Hoyt), an always frightened dumb maid and Louise Beavers in a degrading, stereotypical role as an hysterical cleaning lady. It's a little slow going and has the usual stilted "stage" acting common to early talkies (although there is some clever dialogue and the fate of the murderer is a little different) but Talbot is great as the wise talking reporter. Harvey Clark is a suspicious janitor.

This low budget comedy-mystery is in the public domain and used to play a lot on various TV stations in the 1990's. The year before director Albert Ray (who made many silent shorts) made THE THIRTEENTH GUEST also starring Rogers and Talbot. Rogers would team with Fred Astaire for the first time the same year in FLYIN' DOWN TO RIO and achieve stardom soon after (she's win an Academy Award in 1940).

Grin and Lambert It

DAY OF WRATH (GAME OF SWORDS)-2005-In Spain in 1542, during the inquisition, a drunken sheriff (Christopher Lambert) investigates a series of murders that leads to a conspiracy involving corruption, torture, murder and aristocrats covering up their Jewish bloodline.  This medieval tale is very slow going and Lambert's character is kind of a fool but it was nice to see Brian Blessed as the pompous mayor. James Faulkner is Friar Anselmo who conducts some tortures. A few higher production values can't cover up the fact that this is just more Lambert boredom. Filmed mostly in Budapest by director Adrian Rudomin.

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The Cheat

THE CHEAT-1921-Cecil B. DeMile directed this silent drama that was a big hit in its time.

It tells the story of a society woman Edith Hardy (Fannie Ward) who's high living is interrupted by her husband's financial investing. When a friend tells her of a sure fire stock she embezzles 10 thousand dollars (from a Red Cross fund of which she was the treasurer) to invest in it but the stock goes blooey and she loses everything.

A Burmese businessman Hara Arakau (Sessue Hayakawa) agrees to lend her the money on the condition that they become lovers. When the her husband Richard (Jack Dean) strikes it rich with his investments he gives Edith  $10,000 (she says she lost it playing bridge!) and wants to renege on her deal with Arakau but he'll have none of it. They have an intense struggle which ends with Arakau branding Edith (he does this with all of his "property"). She then shoots Arakau in the shoulder and flees. However Richard had followed and learns of his wife's deception. He winds up taking the rap for Edith. It all ends in a courtroom where Richard is found guilty of the shooting but Edith throws herself at the mercy of the judge, admitting she actually did the shooting and shows the brand on her back. A near riot ensues as angry spectators try to get their hands on Arakau. The judge sets aside the verdict and all charges are dropped and the couple leave happily.

In the original 1915 release Hayakawa's character was a Japanese ivory merchant which brought about protests from Japanese Americans who objected to the cruel lead. A 1918 re-release changed him to a Burmese. Hayakawa was the first Asian star in American films and was popular and successful until the advent of sound. He returned to Japan (after making a remake of THE CHEAT in France). He was nominated for a best supporting Oscar in 1957 for THE BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI.

THE CHEAT also features another Japanese actor Yutaka Abe who made several appearances in Hollywood films and later became a successful director in his native country.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Assignment: Miss This Movie!

ASSIGNMENT:OUTER SPACE-1960-This is kind of a strange film. It was made in Italy and is obviously dubbed but it seems to me the cast is actually speaking English anyway! The SFX are very cheesy and laughable (they look like outtakes from a Gerry Anderson project). It was directed by Antonio Margheriti (soon to be familiar to US horror fans under his "Americanized" moniker Antony Dawson).

In the 21st century a space ship prowls the around near Mars. The crew (who have names but usual address each other as numbers) comes out of suspended animation and we learn that one of its members is a reporter named Ray Peterson (Rik Van Nutter; later Felix Leiter in THUNDERBALL). George, the commander doesn't like him. He believes he's just getting in the way. He does seem like an accident waiting to happen as almost off the bat he disobeys orders, goes outside the ship and causes an incident (even though he saves a life). Most of the crew feel the same way (they call him "leech")  except for the kind, philosophical Al (African-American dancer Archie Savage; untypical role for a black actor in 1960)) who offers Ray lots of advice. Later another spaceship crashes on Mars and George and his girlfriend Lucy (Gabriella Farinon; she was in Roger Vadim's BLOOD AND ROSES the same year) go to investigate. Ray joins them too (he went over George's head to get permission). They rescue the one survivor of the Mars crash then head for Venus to help save the Earth from destruction. There's a lot of gobbledygook scientific talk and everyone acts very strange (most of them look kinda weird too). The print I saw had washed out color and terrible editing and looked like something made ten years earlier!

But if you really want a laugh go to the IMDB and read all the great reviews this thing gets. References to 2001 abound and one genius even says the SFX are good! Maybe they are just looking for attention!

Originally called SPACE MEN.

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